Tag Archives: culture change

Be A Man, Not A Jackass

9 Aug

Hi everyone. I wanted to start this post off with a brief introduction. My name is Alex Girard. I’m a friend of Ali’s, one of her students and an occasional thug for the SAFE class.

Thanks Alex, for sharing your thoughts! Alex will be interning at The Daily Show this fall. We'll miss him in Madison!!

If you’re a regular reader of this or other female empowerment/feminist blogs, the concept of a man writing a piece for such a blog probably doesn’t seem like such a foreign idea; just look at the Blogroll on the right side of this page and you’ll see blogs like “Men Stopping Rape” and “The Good Men Project.” It’s certainly not a new concept, but I’m bringing it up because in my personal experience there still seems to be a broad class of men who confuse feminism with misandry, and any male contribution to gender equality discussions to be either some sort of “betrayal” or glad-handing sycophancy.

For the former, it seems that there are men who take the phrase “Bros before Hoes” as a broad social philosophy. Bros, mainly, who are coincidentally the same people who would use the term “Hoes” to refer to women. Maybe they think it sounds like a good idea because it rhymes.

Now to be fair, I’m not referring to the phrase as it’s ostensibly supposed to be used. Problematic wording aside, the original, idealized meaning of the phrase is that your relationship with your girlfriend or wife shouldn’t cut your male friends out of your life. Fair enough, but here I’m taking it here more literally as like the adult personification of throwing a “No Girls Allowed” sign on your clubhouse. Aside from Augusta, I mean.

They make it sound like normal, respectful relationships with women are some draining force that beats the masculinity out of you. The stereotypical “man of the house,” overbearing “macho” masculinity that’s fortunately been falling more and more out of cultural favor.

For an example, I was listening in on a conversation about relationships and people were discussing the often suggested date of having your lady friend over and cooking dinner for her or together. Maybe it’s because my dad did all the cooking when I was growing up, but I’ve always felt an impetus to learn how to cook well, and I enjoy dates like these because it gives me chance to show off that I’m more well-rounded than a sitcom character (which is more than I can say about some roommates I’ve had).

Turns out, nope, big mistake. Cooking dinner for a woman shows her that you’re willing to do anything for her, and that means the rest of the relationship is going to be her walking all over you. Of course you’d never want to do something nice for someone you like unless it’s because you’re a doormat. At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the conversation.

Now honestly, I’ve heard this date recommended so many times that the objection to it was probably more of a half-assed effort to sound different rather than an honest argument for “willingness to cook” as a sign of weakness. At least I’d hope so. I brought this up to a female friend who told me, and I quote, “That’s bullshit. Knowing how to cook and clean will get you a girl so fast.” I’ll take her word for it.

More commonly when I hear men give each other relationship advice, they’ll recommend (and this is a line I’ve heard verbatim multiple times) being an asshole because “women like assholes.” I was under the impression that nobody likes assholes; that’s why they get called assholes. The issue here is of course a confusion between being a jerk and being a confident person.

I’ve kind of gone all over the place here, but the basic point I’m trying to make is that being nice doesn’t make you a doormat, it means you’re nice; being an asshole doesn’t mean you’re confident, it means you’re an asshole; and being macho doesn’t make you a man. That makes you an asshole too.

Helen Aarli: 2nd Wave Feminist and Pioneer of Chicago Anti-Rape Movement

3 Aug

Saturday night I had the pleasure of meeting and having dinner with 85-year-old Helen Aarli, a pioneer in the anti-rape movement circa 1970 and a true inspiration!

Helen Aarli (Photo from )

Helen invited my girlfriend Amy and me to her apartment to talk about feminism. When we arrived, she hugged us warmly and welcomed us in to her home. Our refreshing summer meal consisted of tuna salad, quinoa, tossed salad and spicy corn bread. “I subscribe to Cooking Light,” Helen told us, “And I try to make a new recipe each week. I play games with myself like that.” Helen has more energy than many adults half her age, which I’m guessing has something to do with her extreme positivity and zest for life. Although long retired, she keeps busy with projects like hosting and producing a show on public television called “Senior Beat”, engaging in political activism, and learning all she can about topics that interest her. (Her current curiosity is memory and Alzheimer’s.)

Helen co-hosting Senior Beat with guest Tammy Baldwin!

Helen, who has two masters degrees and was an inter-generational communication program director, kicked off discussion with questions about the . (The Third Wave refers to the current generation of feminists. The refers to the feminists behind the “Women’s Liberation” movement which we think of as happening mainly from the late 60′s through the early 70′s. Activists from the Second Wave helped pass (1973), protecting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health, as well as which protects women’s rights in education. They also pioneered the , making important institutional changes, teaching the first women’s self-defense courses and coining the phrase “No means no.”) I told Helen that my generation was born out of the 80′s in which there was a severe backlash against feminism that is still felt today, so many young women hesitate to even identify themselves as feminists. Recently, what many are calling the “War on Women” has energized young activists.

Rally supporting Planned Parenthood

I was surprised that Helen had not yet heard of Slutwalks, and I was excited to tell her the story. When I reached the punch line– that thousands of women have taken to the streets in protest of victim-blaming and slut-shaming, some scantily clad and almost all holding clever signs, in Slutwalks all over the world– she laughed and laughed! Her eyes sparkled and she exclaimed, “Oh! To throw it in their faces!” Her demeanor suggested that she thought the whole thing to be cute, fun, and perfectly appropriate for the issue at hand. She immediately connected the concept to when she first heard her gay friends starting to reclaim the word “queer”, which one could easily argue was as strongly associated with violence as the word “slut”. She remembered being shocked also by the use of the upside-down pink triangle to show safe spaces for LGBT people,

Do we remember today where this triangle came from?

because as a Jewish woman, she of course knew that it was to identify homosexuals for persecution. As someone who has been educated to conclude that we can’t reclaim hateful words, I was secretly embarrassed to be reminded that “queer”, a term I use freely to describe myself as a bisexual woman and to generalize about the LGBT community when my tongue tires of acronyms, was and still is used as a homophobic slur. As someone who always thinks she is right, I started to think I should hang out with much older people much more often.

Helen asked what my issue was, and I told her it was sexual assault prevention. She asked about how things were going in that field and I told her I didn’t think all that much had changed. Her face darkened and she said, “I’m very disappointed to hear that.” I asked her what her issue was. “It was the Anti-Rape Movement.” I was immediately struck both with a deep sense of humility and a feeling that I had just put my foot in my mouth. Oops.

My girlfriend brought this magnet as a gift for Helen but of course she already had one from her daughter on her fridge!

Helen told the story of her participation in the movement in Chicago, from when she lead consciousness-raising groups for self-defined “older women” (she was in her early 40′s at the time) to when she saw a passionate anti-rape speaker smash a misogynist record over her knee on stage and felt she had found her issue. Together with a group of other activist housewives, they hit the ground running. She and her sisters used space in a church to staff a rape crisis line. Two women always worked together, and in the snowy winters they would wait to make sure that both of their cars would start before leaving, in order not to leave the other woman stranded alone at night.

Helen's favorite 2nd Wave poster by her friend Estelle Carol of the Chicago Women's Graphics Collective which distributed thousands of feminist posters world-wide.

They decided that the institutions that needed to change were 1) the hospitals, 2) the police and 3) the courts. One Chicago hospital refused even to admit rape victims. Helen let the hospital’s name slip to the press and they changed their policy the next day. The activists (who were viewed by professionals as “just housewives”) took it upon themselves to go into the hospitals and train staff on compassionate care, insisting that a woman be present in the room rather than having only a male doctor who launched into an internal exam on a traumatized patient. They also trained hospital staff in collecting physical evidence to be used in trials.

I told Helen about the program used in Wisconsin hospitals as well as many other states and she was pleased to hear what a long way care for rape victims has come.

The Chicago Police were the toughest and scariest crowd she had to address. She told us of the first time that they went to the sexual assault department and she saw that over the department sign they had hung a gigantic pair of pink ladies’ bloomers. Tears came to her eyes as she recounted the memory. “It was a big joke to them,” she said. When they returned with an undercover investigative reporter, they had taken the panties down. She described the police as extremely insensitive to the issue. Once she came in with a victim as an advocate (although the police assumed she was “just the mother”) and the officer said, “If you’ve been raped, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.” She asked the police, “Isn’t it true that you have a manual that instructs police, when dealing with a rape victim, to first question whether the rape actually occurred?” The officer replied, “There is no such manual.” As she was leaving, someone who worked behind the scenes pulled Helen aside and said, “That manual he just said doesn’t exist? Here is a copy.” The next time she brought it up in front of the press and the police denied the manual’s existence, she pulled it out. “Oh, they did not like me very much,” she said seriously. “I was afraid of them.” A friend of hers had warned her that the police would probably see it as a big joke to rape the women who came in to the station as advocates.

Although I think the police still have some ways to go, I was happy to tell her about who works closely with the and trains law enforcement on how to sensitively interview victims and follow up with investigation of the perpetrators (rather than the victims).

When dealing with the legal system, Helen and her fellow feminists attempted to train lawyers in how to address rape cases with sensitivity. When speaking with one lawyer, she said, “He asked, ‘Are you a lawyer?’ and I said ‘No.’ I thought he was going to hit me! Who was I, a woman, who was not even a lawyer, to tell him how to do his job?” She remembered in one case, an African-American woman named Paulette who “had dared to go into a bar alone to dance and have fun” was gang-raped by several men in the bar. When the case was brought to court, the judge said, “Boys will be boys.” Helen stood up, shocked, from her seat and was immediately surrounded by security who instructed her to sit down or be removed from the courtroom. Helen told this story to TV host Lee Philips who was inspired to make the film The Rape of Paulette.

Helen and the film Paulette's story inspired are featured in this book

Another time, a group of 7 African-American women told Helen they wanted to speak with her. She went to meet with them and, one by one, they each recounted their experiences of rape. (Trigger warning) They told her that one of the women wasn’t there to tell her story herself. She was at a bus stop holding her baby, and the attacker raped her at knife point in front of her baby and then slit her throat, leaving her for dead. Fearing for her life, she fled with her baby. One of the women could not bear to tell her husband what had happened to her, but she walked her daughter to school every day afterwards. They were all brought together by something they had in common: they were all raped by the same man. They knew his identity, but he kept getting off on mistaken identity when he was brought to court. There was a law that did not allow multiple charges to be brought against the same person and Helen asked the courts, “Can’t you get creative and find a way around that?” She shook her head, “They did not like me for saying that!”

Helen and her group called themselves Chicago Legal Action for Women, or CLAW. One woman suggested they should make their logo a big claw, but they decided to downplay it instead. “Like we didn’t know,” Helen laughed, “Like we were just innocent little housewives.” Together they wrote and printed a comprehensive handbook for lay advocates. “I don’t know,” Helen shrugged, “We just figured we were experts based on our experience on the ground. We just thought we could do it.” So they did.

Helen with CLAW Handbook! How cool is she??!

Helen showed me the materials she had saved from that time, including  business cards from the rape crisis line they staffed, the CLAW handbook and brochures, a 1971 “Stop Rape” handbook that included (of particular interest to me) an article called “Fighting Back” by Cate Stadelman, which included some of the earliest self-defense tips for women, and– I almost died when I saw this– the second printing of Our Bodies Our Selves by The Boston Women’s Health Collective. 35 cents. It was a thick pamphlet. I asked her, “Did they have any idea then how big these things would become?” Helen shook her head, smiling, “Oh I don’t think so.”

Second Wave Literature, probably printed with mimeograph (never seen one myself!)

Thinking back on my idiotic statement from earlier in the night that things had not changed, I told Helen, “You know, I think what happened is that the institutions changed, but the culture has not changed very much.” I cited statistics that show the majority of college-aged men (84%) who commit rape do not identify their actions as rape and the majority of college-aged women (88%) who are raped do not recognize themselves as victims. “Somehow,” I told her, “People still don’t get the most basic message of ‘No means no’.” She was very interested and surprised to hear that. I guess I’m surprised too.

*NOTE: Although I’ve written this based on Helen’s stories and experiences as an individual, she would not want to be viewed as a “one-woman wonder.” “We prided ourselves on being made up of collectives,” she said. “Part of second wave feminism was ‘shared leadership’ as opposed to the male model of the one person in charge and the rest somehow subordinate.” I hope my readers will recognize that sisterhood fueled feminist collective actions during the 2nd wave, and Helen was one of many who worked to create changes we benefit from today.

Men Who Want To Protect Women

15 Jun

Most fathers, brothers, boyfriends and more are good men who respect and care about the women and girls in their lives. Many of these men feel protective of these women and girls, and I can understand why. The world is not a very good place for women in a lot of ways. 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

I’m concerned, however, that some men may have some poorly informed ideas about how to best support the safety, comfort and happiness of the women and girls they love.

Threatening, intimidating or fighting bad people doesn’t help women.

Often it’s just a joke, but sometimes it’s more serious. The sentiment of “If anyone messes with you I’ll mess him up!” is not only misguided, but could cause more harm than good.

1) Telling a woman that she essentially needs a bodyguard sends her the message that she is a victim who can’t take care of herself and is deeply disempowering, not to mention insulting.

2) Violence and posturing are the problems here, not the solutions.

3) Often the best way to stand up for someone is to help them stand up for themselves. My mother recently moved to Texas and several women there told her, “Oh I don’t need to learn self defense– my husband has a gun!” Her response: “Where is your husband right now?”

Instead of saying, “I’ll protect you,” try things like, “I”ll stand by you if you need to tell that guy off” and “No, you’re not overreacting. He has no right to treat you like that.”

Warning women or girls to distrust men or to live in fear detracts from their quality of life.

Women don’t need to change how we dress or where we go in order to protect ourselves. Over 90% of violent crime is committed by men. Those men are the ones who need to change their behavior.

Rather than warning women or girls “what guys are like” or “how some guys think”, men who care about women should spend that time and effort talking to other men about how to respect women and how not to commit sexual violence.

Women: Expecting the men in your life to protect you is dangerous for everyone involved.

While women and children are most often the victims of sexual assault, men are much more often victims of violence in general. Women are taught to avoid conflict in our society, while men are taught that “a real man doesn’t back down from a fight.” That’s how a lot of men get hurt.

I would not want or expect any man in my life to take a punch for me, any more than I would want to take a punch myself. I write mainly about keeping women safe, but honestly one of the biggest social lessons a man can learn to keep himself safe is to avoid conflict. Repeat after me: “Hey man, I don’t want to fight.”

Tips for everyone to protect your loved ones:

-Don’t laugh at sexist, hateful or. If you can, confront the joker about why it’s not funny.

-If someone you know feels unsafe, don’t brush off their feelings. Encourage them to get out of that situation in their own way.

-Understand the warning signs of and .

-Recognize that nobody “asks for it” when they are raped or sexually assaulted. , including children.

-Empower your loved ones. Don’t let them underestimate themselves or put themselves down. Build their confidence by believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

When we think of sexual assault, men are often seen as the problem. It’s true that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault (and violent crime in general, for that matter) is committed by men, but it is also important to remember that most men do not commit violence.

Many men, in fact, go out of their way to prevent violence (and sexism).  You go, men! Let’s take a moment to recognize how awesome you are:

In Milwaukee recently, a have come together to respond to a string of attacks against women in their community.

In Wisconsin in general, we have a lot of great men doing anti-violence work. trains law enforcement to approach sexual assault cases with sensitivity. works for the and is a long-time member of . Some fraternity brothers at UW-Madison take a class through the School of Social Work () to change the rape culture for which fraternities (and college campuses in general, for that matter) have become so .

In the blogosphere, shout outs to Thomas at and at .

Then there’s the men I every day. They are AWESOME! Shout outs to Clint, , Scott, Marcus, Ted, Will, Robert, Doug, Jason, Andy and Marco who volunteer their time to serve as practice attackers for my women’s self defense classes. Shout out to Troy who, when a kickboxing student bragged to him that he was “only there to pick up girls”, stood up for the women at our studio and shamed the guy so he never came back! (Funny side note- he was worried I’d be mad about that.) The men I work with are so respectful, one of my kickboxers was telling me how she feels more comfortable as a woman at our studio than at places she’d worked out at previously with “macho” instructors. I reminded her that we have male instructors too and she said, “Yeah but your male instructors are great!”

I asked some of these men and others to share their thoughts about how men can work against violence. Here’s a few of the responses I got:

“What men need to do is really pretty simple: reject this culture. I believe it’s honestly not true that men are biologically sexually aggressive. The rejection of this culture in its most exaggerated form is obvious in the constant ridicule placed on the “bro” stereotype by everyone else, but there is still that undercurrent that seems to sometimes seep into otherwise decent men.”

“I’m dumbfounded that I still meet men who believe that women serve two purposes: Cleaning the house, and making babies. Those kind of men will never listen to women and change their ways. They feel they are right because so many of their friends think the way they do. Men need to voice their opinions more, so that those men still stuck in the dark ages will realize they are in the minority and at least consider changing their views. It won’t change all of their minds, they’re too stubborn. But with time and pressure from the rest of society, their numbers will dwindle.”

“Aside from the obvious one – “don’t commit sexual violence” – men need to be aware of the social & cultural forces that suggest that sexual violence doesn’t happen, isn’t a problem, is a joke, etc. Men should talk about these things openly, with one another and with women. They should understand what exactly constitutes sexual violence – that it isn’t always a strange guy jumping a woman in an alley somewhere. They should see adult men treating their female partners with respect.”

Men absolutely must be a part of the movement to end sexual violence. I send so much love and appreciation to the men who are already there. I challenge women who are doing this work to reach out to  men as allies, friends and brothers and welcome them.

P.S. Shout out to West High’s (directed by my dear friend, teacher and mentor ). High school kids perform about racism, sexism and other issues like these to elementary through high school audiences. Check out this video of Benny and Terri discussing consent in front of a very awkward high school audience. It’s pretty darn cute.

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